Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Spark of Wisdom: I am a homophobe

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This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.

I am a homophobe

Ok blink, you read it right. No go back and read it again, trust me it's not a typo. I am a homophobe.

Not something you usually expect someone to admit to. Far less a gay man. So let me explain myself before you all wonder if Sparky has started drinking early today.

It would be probably more accurate to say I have absorbed homophobia. I, like probably 99% of everyone reading this (and I only leave that 1% because I have a powerful dislike of certainty) grew up in a homophobic, hetero-normative society. My parents, my vast extended family, the media I consumed and consume, the books I read, the schools I attended, the college and university I went to, my work colleagues and bosses - in short everything around me for my entire life is hetero-normative and on some level rejects, diminishes and others homosexuality to varying degrees.

From the invisible, to the stereotyped, to the hateful venom, to the empty pity to the endless assumption that you are/will be/should be heterosexual we live in societies that are steeped in homophobia.

And that leaves a stain.

It has stained me. Some of the stain is from being homophobia's victim. There are places I fear to go, people I avoid. Despite being out and proud, I still fear touching or hugging Beloved in public. At times in conversation I still use careful gender-neutral speech rather than out-right saying my partner is another man. I am harshly critical and angry with homosexuals who do ridiculous things or commit heinous crimes because I know I will be judged by their actions.

But homophobia itself has also stained me, not just living in the shadow of it. I have laughed at homophobic jokes before my brain caught up and replaced mirth with rage and hurt. I have pandered to stereotypes. I have played up to them. I even spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to follow stereotypes for fear I was Doing Gay Wrong. I make assumptions about my gay friends that I would slap people for if they assumed it about me (or at least give them a stern and long winded lecture. Trust me, the slap is more humane).

And the people who spend the most time with me are the same. The people who have taken the greatest pains not to exclude me, not to hurt me and generally not whack me round the head with their straight privilege - still do so on a depressing number of occasions. Friends and certainly family (my parents alone have filled up stacks of bingo cards - and many a sleepless night of pain and sadness) have all taken their turns bludgeoning me with privilege, thoughtlessness and homophobia

My point?

After much rambling, my point is - the chances are you're stained by homophobia too. I know the instinct is to deny that - I do the same thing. Some people complain about those sensitive gay folks (or women or black folks or any other marginalised body for that matter) who are seeing homophobia/sexism/racism/etc everywhere. They don't realise that we see it everywhere because it IS EVERYWHERE. Even on ourselves.

Denying it won't fix it. We all carry the stains our society leaves upon us.

Some of it is our privileges - enjoying a world that is tailored to us in so many ways we don't even notice or realise how much things are designed for us. Or the ways it is NOT designed for those that do not share our privilege.

Some of it is normative behaviour - we assume that a certain state of being is the norm - whether it's cisgendered or able bodied or heterosexual or the thousand other normative assumptions we make. We assume and impose a norm that excludes those that don't fit it.

And some of it is active harm. Intentional or otherwise, it's behaviour that hurts and devalues people. It doesn't just cast them as other (though that is bad in itself), it casts them as LESS.

These are the stains society leaves - stains we all carry - even those that are harmed by them. It's tempting to say "but not me." It's much easier to say "I'm gay! How can anything I do be homophobic?" or "I'm an ally! Of course I'm not homophobic!". But if we look in the mirror we all know there have been times - and will be times - when our own stains are showing.

And we need to recognise that.

We need to recognise the times when we hurt people and work to change our behaviour, school our language, challenge our assumptions that are so deeply ingrained - otherwise we just add to that stain and ensure the next generation will carry its smut.

We need to recognise that we WILL show that stain from time to time - and when people correct us they're trying to help us wash it out. That there's no need or call for anger and defensiveness.

And we need to recognise that others will show their stain - and that doesn't mean they're a die-hard spreader of hatred and filth (though they may be - and if they are it's time to start scrubbing, because there are some vile people out there that will never come clean) but nor does it mean we can let them spread the stain of prejudice without challenging them.

In the end, my point (rather rambly and severely strained under the creaking weight of a rather rusty metaphor) is that prejudice is EVERYWHERE - and so the fight to remove it has to happen everywhere - sometimes even our own heads.